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January 27, 2003

Clarke lab aids students, teachers

From: Hampshire Gazette, MA - 27 Jan 2003

By BROOKE WERLEY Monday, January 27, 2003 -- NORTHAMPTON - A newly renovated lab at Clarke School for the Deaf aims to help hearing-impaired students experience sound and to train future teachers of the deaf.

The overhaul of the Marjorie E. Magner Speech Lab began early last year.

"Things are a lot different now," said Magner, recalling the former layout of cubicles separated by curtains. "But that was a long time ago," she laughed. Magner, who founded the lab, worked at Clarke School for 53 years, retiring in 1985.

The remodeled lab has five rooms equipped with one-way windows and intercom systems. "The emphasis used to be on lip-reading," said school president Dennis Gjerdingen, "so the noisy environment was not that important."

Gjerdingen said that with cochlear implants, deaf individuals can hear. "It's very exciting what's happening," he said, "Deaf kids are actually able to speak on the telephone. I never thought I'd live to see that day."

"Last year the lab was very noisy," said 15-year-old Erin Garlock, a student at Clarke. "The quiet environment makes it easier for me to hear and learn words."

The school had been discussing renovations for several years, said Gjerdingen, but the project was initiated by Allison Holmberg, director of the school's auditory/oral communication program, and Diane Judd, a former teacher in the program who saw an immediate need to update the lab.

Holmberg, who has been at the school for two years, began seeking funding from the community in September 2001, said Gjerdingen. "There was an incredible response from the community," he said.

Donations from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Mass Mutual Life Insurance Co. and Florence Savings Bank, along with contributions from other local organizations and businesses, helped to fund the $45,000 project.

The 30-year-old lab is used by both hearing-impaired students and aspiring teachers in a master's program the Clarke School offers through Smith College. The program consists of observation, classroom, and practicum experience. Students who complete it earn a master's degree in education of the deaf.

"So much of our role is to train professionals to go out in the world," said Gjerdingen. He said the school receives more than 200 inquiries about its master's program annually, and 12 students are now enrolled. One is hearing-impaired.

Holmberg said the lab renovations have improved feedback for training teachers. "The one-way mirrors allow us to observe the teaching without making the students feel like we're intruding on them," said Holmberg.

The 70 students on campus are required to use the lab at least three times a week, according to Holmberg. "Some students are here every day," she said. The average student will spend 20 to 30 minutes in the lab at a time.

In the lab, students work on articulation and language skills, according to speech specialist Sherry Tychsen. She said that because of the new technology, the focus has become more auditory.

"There is a much higher quality of individual education because of the renovations," said Tychsen, who has taught at the school for eight years. She added that the graduate program is stronger as well because of the opportunity for observation.

"The renovations of the lab have raised the bar on both ends of the school," said Tychsen.

© 2002 Daily Hampshire Gazette